NASA needs to evolve for the future, not get stuck in the past, the agency's deputy chief said this week.
Speaking at a TEDxMidTownNY event at Manhattan's Explorers Club, NASA's second in command, Lori Garver, said it was time to kick-start commercial spaceflight to low Earth orbit and shift NASA's focus to more ambitious exploration missions.
"Our space program needs to not be reliving the space program of the past," she said. "We have been trying to relive Apollo for 40 years now."
Instead of sending astronauts back to the moon, Garver espoused the new plan put forward by President Barack Obama to pursue trips to an asteroid and Mars. Meanwhile, NASA would try to shift the responsibility for transporting people to the International Space Station to the private sector, which has already made some strides toward commercial spacecraft capable of reaching orbit.
"At NASA we have a number of plans right now to commercialize space in a way that we will be really allowing the private sector to do those things that have become routine, like, if you can believe it, transporting humans to and from low Earth orbit, while we at NASA do the hard thing, do the next thing," Garver said. [Top 10 Private Spaceships Becoming Reality]
A tough sell
This new direction for NASA — a change from the previous administration's Constellation program to build new Ares rockets and Orion spacecraft to carry people back to the moon — has been a tough sell to some lawmakers and members of the public.
While a NASA authorization bill that recently passed the U.S. Senate hews mainly to President Obama's proposal, a bill making its way through the U.S. House of Representatives attempts to resurrect large parts of Constellation and cut back some of the funding the new administration proposed for supporting commercial spaceflight.
"Tough time in Washington right now to talk about change," Garver said. "But we really believe these are the kinds of things that have been coming and they are necessary."
'A lot of progress'
Garver said she and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, an Obama appointee, have been making strides in communicating the message of the new plan.
"We feel there has been a lot of progress made in our ability to articulate our plan and what it is the president has set out to do with NASA," Garver told Space.com. "We are in communication with all the stakeholders and really feel like they're all working towards a common goal of the absolute best space program we can have."
TEDxMidTownNY is a local version of the TED Conference, a nonprofit that aims to spread new ideas by uniting people from technology, entertainment and design communities. The event was sponsored by the Space Frontier Foundation, a space exploration advocacy organization.
Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist, also spoke at the event. She reminisced about her 2006 trip to the International Space Station — the fourth anniversary of her flight is on Saturday — and echoed Garver's hopes for a burgeoning commercial space industry.